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Soil survey data and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) are important tools in land use planning. Intertwined, they represent an invaluable and underutilized resource. 

The purpose of this study is to use GIS to be used to conduct a high intensity soil survey. Take the soils information which was recompiled from an uncorrected aerial photographic base to a USGS topographic base map.

 Soils data were added to numerous other data layers and images. Interpretation maps, flooding frequency maps, and runoff maps were created from Map Unit Interpretive Records (MUIR). Additional soil and timber data were collected by field visits. The soil based-GIS made the decision-making process more accurate, automated, and efficient.

 It is a dynamic product that serves to convert verbal communication into visual communication while preventing information overload.

I. Introduction

 Wise land-use planning involves making knowledgeable decisions about land use and the environment. Holistic planning involves input from multiple, interrelated data sources and types. In order to accomplish this feat a great deal of information must be considered simultaneously. Physical and chemical soil information is a vital component in the planning process, reflecting directly upon land-use suitability. 

Traditional land-use planning involved many different sources of printed information such as soil survey manuals, topographic maps, aerial photographs, vegetation surveys, flood maps, hydrology maps, and property surveys to name a few. Each source contributed an important characteristic to the final decision. Human decision-makers were challenged to keep track of all this information at once, to understand the interrelationships, and to correlate multiple data sources at single locations. 

Publishing of static data sources such as USDA Soil Surveys was infrequent. Thousands of copies were printed at one time and then distributed. There were no backup copies once the supply was exhausted. The imagery was dark and copies were hard to read. The imagery became outdated quickly in rapidly developing areas. Inclusion of colored maps and figures was so expensive that they were not added until recent years. Publishing was often a time consuming process as well, sometimes taking 10 years to receive the end product. 

Today, advances have been made towards extraordinary digital systems for utilization in land-use planning. Computer programs including decision support systems (models), Geographic Information Systems (GIS), spreadsheets, databases, and color desktop publishing programs contribute to the speed and efficiency of the overall planning process. Also available are inexpensive, sometimes free, digital photos and images, digital maps, and digital file distribution options (GeoComm, 2000; Radford Univ., 2000; USGS, 2000). 

Conversion of printed information to digital format and integration using Geographic Information System (GIS) enables land-use planners to correlate multiple data layers to one location and manipulate the appearance of the data to visualize trends and patterns. The GIS also allows tabular soil information to be georeferenced and easily converted to geographic and interpretive maps, providing the user with a visual representation of the tabular data. Georeferencing tables allow users to see tabular information for any feature on any map by a simple mouse click. 

A GIS allows access to large amounts of information quickly and efficiently. “Geographic Information Systems let you visualize information in new ways that reveal relationships, patterns, and trends not visible with other popular systems” (Environmental Systems Research Institute, 1999). 

A GIS is a thematic mapping system, meaning you can produce maps based on themes such as soils or hydrology. Map features can be linked to corresponding information contained in database tables. Another advantage of GIS is that it is a dynamic product rather than a static product, making it is easy to update, edit, and reproduce maps. Multiple layers of maps can be quickly displayed in a variety of overlap, scales, and combinations to fit the needs of the user.

The Southern Piedmont Agricultural Research and Extension Center was faced with a land-use planning dilemma, and the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture decided to fund the creation of a soils-based GIS to assist their decision-making needs. The Center had access to a number of printed maps and tables and needed a better system of information organization and correlation. 

This topic focuses on a case study of the advantages of using digital information and on the methods behind creating a GIS for wise land-use planning purposes.


The Center funded this soils-based GIS to assist with the planning process to provide comprehensive, accurate, and visual information. The GIS will be provided to the Center personnel to be used with future research projects and plans. This GIS will also be available on the Internet where it will be an easily accessible resource for educational purposes by students and educators everywhere.


 Our objective was to develop a dynamic, natural resource-based decision support system using GIS to enable efficient and environmentally sound land-use planning.


 The Southern Piedmont Agricultural Research and Extension Center is located in Nottoway County, approximately 1.5 miles east of the town of Blackstone, Virginia. Nottoway County lies entirely within the Piedmont physiographic province. “The county is an old plain that has been dissected by many small streams that flow in narrow, winding valleys”. Geologic formations in Nottoway County, consisting of granite gneiss, granite, hornblende gneiss, diabase, quartz, mica gneiss, and quartz sericite schist, extend in a northeast-southwest direction.

The local climate consists of fairly mild winters with frequent, short, cold spells. Nottoway County averages 191 frost-free days, extending from about April 16 until about October 24. The area has an average precipitation of 40.88 inches spread throughout the year.

 The Center is approximately 1200 acres south of US Rt. 460-Business and north of VA Rt. 40. A few hundred acres lie west of Military Road while the majority of the area lies directly to the east. 

The hardware used in creating this GIS included a Pentium III personal computer and a combination light-table and digitizer. Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Access were used to create and organize the large soils database. Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc. (ESRI) ArcView GIS software was used for every other aspect of this project including digitization, calculating areas, creating buffers, and making any end-product paper maps. 

The following data layers were needed to create this GIS: Base map image, topography, hydrology, soils, roads, property boundaries, current land use, flooding frequencies, timber survey and values, and various spot symbols such as boulders. 

Base data are the most correct in terms of area, location, and topography. Therefore it is the data used to “base” or register all of the other information to. The base map data consisted of a 1999 land survey of the property boundaries, the USGS Blackstone East topographic quadrangle, and a USGS Blackstone East Digital Orthophoto Quadrangle (DOQ).

 A DOQ is a computer generated image in which displacements caused by camera orientation and terrain have been removed (USGS National Mapping Homepage 2000). In other words, a DOQ is a digital, geospatially corrected version of an aerial photograph. The DOQ used in this project had a resolution of 1 meter, which means that 1 pixel in the image represents 1 meter on the ground. This high resolution allows users to pick out individual roads, buildings, and sometimes even individual trees. The high resolution along with the detailed land survey allowed us to create a highly accurate digital property boundary. 

Other data sources used in this GIS included Digital Line Graphs (DLG) and a variety of paper thematic maps. Digital line graphs are digital representations of information contained on USGS topographic quadrangle maps (USGS National Mapping Homepage 2000). This includes roads, hydrology, and 10-ft contour lines. The hydrologic information provided by USGS was mapped at a smaller scale and not detailed enough for this study, so new stream data was created. In ArcView, 5-ft contour lines were projected from the 10-ft contour lines to better recognize landforms like floodplains and steep slopes.

To transfer this soils information onto a corrected base it was necessary to recompile it. The 1998 soil survey polygons and property boundary were drawn on a Mylar overlay over the USGS topographic quadrangle using the 10-ft contours as guides. Each map unit polygon and the outer property boundary was digitized and labeled using a digitizer/light table and the ArcView software. 

The 1998 soil mapping legend was a list compiled from the legends of the other soils information sources. Since the earliest survey, some of the soil series had become inactive, some were recorrelated, or new series added by USDA-NRCS.

 A new correlated digital legend was created using the Official Series Descriptions (OSD) from the National Soil Data Access Facility, data from the old soil information, and field checks. After the soils were digitized, it was easy to analyze areas and counts of map units as well as check the GIS against the new legend.


 The main objective of this study was to provide information to the involved personnel to assist with their land-use planning process. The Center plans to create three large new research areas funded by income from a timber harvest of the area.

 A new crop research area, an agro forestry research area, and three large forage/livestock areas are to be created for the property. The overall project objectives include creating triplicate forage areas with similar soil characteristics for research purposes.

 The center also wants to strategically locate agro forestry research and cropland expansion areas to utilize suitable soils and water resources. Another goal is to maximize the timber harvest income yet at the same time maintain the aesthetics of the Center. 

The final decisions were based on wise land use and protection of the environment. A simple planning formula was used to determine the location and extent of the research areas. The soils were analyzed for suitability to each of the three research goals. Boulders and steep slopes were avoided. A predetermined buffer distance around streams and roads was also avoided. 

Proximity to water for livestock and irrigation purposes was considered. Wetlands were avoided as well as the airfield easement. Existing roads and railroad track crossings that affected accessibility were also a decision factor. Stream buffers were created to provide streamside management zones for protection from clear-cutting. 25-ft, 50-ft, and 75-ft buffers were created in ArcView on each side of every stream. The 50-ft buffer was used to protect intermittent streams and the 75-ft buffer protects perennial streams. For aesthetic purposes, a 75-ft buffer was left around the major roads. 

An example of the buffers is provided in the area west of Military Road was designated as the cropland expansion due to the low slopes and similarity of the soil characteristics. The livestock and forage area was assigned to the large northeast corner of the property due to area availability, ease of access, and good water resource potential. The southeast corner will be the new agro forestry area due to the lack of valuable timber, steeper slopes, and highly variable soil characteristics. The agro forestry area will utilize the existing timber in the future research, therefore only a partial timber harvest will be done and the stream buffers do not need to be considered. Sites for potential water sources were determined by a site visit by local Natural Resource Conservation Service representatives. They utilized maps from our GIS in their decisions. Three potential pond sites were chosen. These would function as underground collection tanks of surface runoff. The water collected could then be pumped up into livestock troughs or tanks for irrigation purposes.


The GIS generated by this project, improved and updated the soils information available to the Center staff and greatly eased the decision making process. It will be easier for the Center to reproduce customized maps quickly on demand, allowing maps to be created and taken into the field when they are needed. For example, the crop researchers will be able to add attribute tables of past research results to a map of research plots. 

The Center will use this GIS for any future land-use planning and in their future agricultural research endeavors. The decisions were made with a more accurate knowledge base and were more efficient thanks to the power of the GIS. 

Using ESRI Internet Map Server this GIS will be available online in an interactive format. It will be possible to view these data layers from normal Internet browsers without any extra extensions or plug-ins. We hope to educate users about the importance of the relationship that soil has on the world around us. 

As technology becomes more powerful and less expensive, GIS will expand into more businesses, homes, and schools. It is an excellent tool of visualization and analysis that serves to inform and educate.


  1. Coleman, C. S. 1960. Soil Survey of Nottoway County, Virginia. USDA-NRCS. Series 1954, No. 11. US Govt. Printing Office, Washington, DC. 
  2. Environmental Systems Research Institute, Inc. 1999. Getting to Know ArcView GIS. 3rd ed. ESRI: Redlands, California. 
  3. GeoComm International Corporation. April 2000. Internet Publication: GIS Data Depot. URL
  4. Jones, Jim. April 2000. Personal Interview. Director, Southern Piedmont Agricultural Research and Extension Center. 
  5. Pettry, D.E. and Edmonds, W. J. August 1973. Agronomy Department, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Technical Report: Preliminary Soil Information of the Southern Piedmont Research and Continuing Education Center, Blackstone, Virginia.
  6. Pettry, D.E. and Edmonds, W. J. August 1974. Agronomy Department, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Technical Report: Soil Survey of the Southern Piedmont Research and Continuing Education Center, Blackstone, Virginia.
  7. Radford University. March 2000. Department of Geography. Internet Publication: Department of Geography’s Geoserver. URL
  8. Soil Survey Staff. 1993. Soil Survey Manual. Agricultural Handbook 18. USDA-NRCS. US Govt. Printing Office, Washington, DC.
  9. USDA-NRCS. December 1999. National Soil Survey Center. Internet Publication: National Soil Data Access Facility. URL
  10. USGS National Mapping Information. April 2000. Internet Publication: URL
  11. Virginia Agriculture Experiment Station. September 1999. Internet Publication: About VAES. URL

C. Market and demographic Analysis

The primary function of market analysis is to understand the marketplace; in other words, “market analysis means using customer information to estimate the size and character of a market”.

 GIS is a powerful market analysis tool because it provides a platform for representing the spatial relationship between the components of the market; that is, the customers, suppliers, and competitors. This has become all the more important as greater competition has forced many firms to find new ways to manage their relationships with customers. 

Strategies such as target marketing, micro marketing, and relationship marketing all require that firms capture and maintain detailed information about their customers. The ultimate goal of all of these efforts is usually to bring a product or service to someone, somewhere; thus, an understanding of the geo-demographic characteristics of the firm’s customers is critical to a successful marketing strategy.

 In most cases, market analysis applications use historical or transaction (real-time) data in combination with decision modeling and support tools to analyze the organization’s marketing environment. Furthermore, GIS is a powerful tool in market analyses because it also provides a way to bring together data from multiple sources and link them based on spatial attributes. 

This often involves a process of layering different types of data on the same map projection so that the decision maker can identify and visualize how data intersect and interact. Thus, GIS is a useful and unique query tool for accessing and displaying components of a database based on the data’s spatial characteristics. 

A number of organizations have successfully applied GIS to their marketing intelligence and analysis needs. For example, fast food restaurants and other food service firms have been one of the most prominent business users of geographic technologies. Firms such as Arby’s, Burger King, The Olive Garden, and others use GIS for market analysis, franchisee selection and placement, site location analysis, and demographic profiling using Google maps. MacDonald’s has used geographic technologies for a number of years and is recognized as an industry leader in the use of geographic information technologies because of its progressive use of GIS for a wide variety of marketing and operational applications. Many firms apply GIS in market based site selection and market analyses. Val-Pak Direct Marketing Services, Inc., the largest US local cooperative direct mail advertising company, uses GIS to micro market, analyze trade areas, and manage territories. Texaco uses GIS to explore markets for sitting new Texaco stations and for enhancing existing facilities. Included in these activities are demographic analyses of neighborhoods and competitor locations to identify likely locations for new stations and the appropriate advertising and product mix for existing stores.

GIS is also used to support national promotional efforts, such as new product launches, target marketing, custom mailings, advertising, and media selection. Many car manufacturers such as the American Honda Motor Company and the American Isuzu Motor Company are also using GIS in a broad spectrum of activities. For example, these firms use GIS for both internal market analysis and assisting their dealers in analyzing their local markets.

D. Transportation and Logistics

GIS and related geographic information technologies are increasingly becoming critical tools for addressing logistics and transportation problems. Hence, GIS is used both as a platform for supporting decision modeling activities and as a tool for displaying the results of these analyses.

 A number of specific tools fit into this category of GIS. These tools include vehicle routing and navigation systems, intelligent vehicle highway systems (IVHS), dispatch systems, production control systems, and inventory systems. Each of these technologies represent useful applications that managers can use to develop tactics to reduce waste, lower personnel and fuel costs, and provide better customer service .

 Transportation systems use tools and algorithms such as transportation network models and material flow models that come from disciplines such as operations research and production management. Thus, transportation and logistical systems rely primarily on the decision modeling function of GIS . Logistical problems are common to many industry segments; thus, many applications for GIS in addressing or supporting logistical problem solving can be cited.

 Car rental firms are increasingly including navigation systems in their rental vehicles. Both Avis and Hertz have been test marketing GPS in-vehicle guidance systems in a number of test markets . Conrail’s growing enterprise GIS uses the technology in many aspects of its business, including transportation, where dynamic segmentation tools can manage rail maintenance history by route and milepost down to each individual rail. The system can also relate customers and potential customer.

Other firms such as LEGO and the Coca Cola Co. use GIS to support transportation logistics, shipment tracking, and planning of product manufacture and delivery.

E. Design and Engineering

Computer drafting and design systems have been widely used for many years for business applications related to engineering, drafting, and design. Computer aided design (CAD) systems, for example, are routinely used by engineering firms to develop and archive architectural drawings. Like CAD systems, GIS technology can be used to design plans, layouts, and maps. 

GIS do differ, however, from traditional CAD systems. For instance, we have noted that CAD systems have rudimentary links to databases, they deal with relatively small quantities of data, they do not usually allow users to assign symbology automatically based on user defined criteria, and they have limited analytical capabilities. 

Nevertheless, we also notice that GIS are related and were, in effect, born of CAD and other information systems. GIS applications for design and engineering make use of both the imaging and the planning functions of GIS. In the majority of cases, the same GIS used for design and engineering are later adopted for FM functions as well.

 These systems are commonly used in landscape engineering, environmental restoration, commercial and residential construction and development, and a host of other design activities. Nearly all the utilities use GIS for design and engineering work, usually by coupling GIS and CAD technologies. Boston Edison, for example, uses GIS for design, planning, operations and maintenance activities; the system stores land-based service territory, facilities and circuit information, which is used to manage the company’s transmission and distribution network. South Carolina Electric and Gas uses its GIS for work order sketching, mapping, and planning for applications to perform voltage drop analysis and “what-if” modeling scenarios in responding to electrical supply problems.

 A number of telecommunication companies are now using GIS to support their expansion of optical fiber or coaxial networks, including AT and T Network Systems and Pactel. Peabody Holding Company’s Coal Services Corporation uses GIS to assist mining companies in complying with rapidly changing government regulations affecting the coal mining industry. Environmental firms like Camp Dresser and McKee (CDM) use GIS in environmental engineering and remediation projects while Pacific Power and Light has used GIS to help with managing wildlife habitat in connection with hydroelectric projects.


GIS is important for business because most business problems include significant spatial components and GIS enables decision makers to leverage their spatial data resources more effectively. 

GIS is useful for managing databases, even extremely large applications such as data warehouses, because it provides an enhanced data structure that is based on the natural organization that geography provides. Today, GIS-based data sources vary from satellite imagery used to validate the number of new houses in a retail market to the individual people-point data of the consumers living in those houses. 

Data such as these can add significant value to an organization’s database by helping to validate and extend their own proprietary resources. Although geographic information technologies have existed for several decades, much research needs to be completed, particularly research examining issues associated with the development, implementation, and use of this technology in business settings. One reason for this is that GIS have traditionally been developed, operated, and researched by people with ties, in one way or another, to geography and computer science. 

This has naturally led to a greater research focus on the technical and cartographic principles related to capturing, representing, and displaying spatial data. As GIS have spread into other areas such as biology, forestry, geology, and similar scientific disciplines, research has similarly tended to focus on technical concerns associated with each of these disciplines. 

Although the literature on GIS from these areas is rich, great potential exists for researchers from business and information systems to contribute to this stream of research, much more research is still needed to better understand issues such as how GIS should be managed in a business setting. What types of business problems it should be used for, how it compares to other types of information systems, and its overall effectiveness as a decision-making tool.